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Mr. Menzies Campbell: I intervene with some trepidation as the hon. Gentleman is an historian, but there are two more contemporary instances that he might bear

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in mind. The first is the Falklands and the second is the Gulf, neither of which appeared anywhere in the threat assessment.

Mr. Simpson: The hon. and learned Gentleman is correct. The Chief of the General Staff at the time of "Options for Change", on which a statement was made in the House in the last week of July 1989, said that printed at the front of the statement should be a comment that many of the conclusions about possible threats should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

The Minister and other hon. Members have pointed out that a crucial element in considering defence policy is joint service effort. That is difficult to consider in a single service debate, but we do not argue in the House that there should not be a single Royal Air Force. Nor do we argue that we should produce joint armed forces rather as the Canadians did some 20 years ago. They recognised that that failed in terms of operational effectiveness and the unique morale requirements of each of the services.

I should like to bring to the attention of Ministers the crucial link between the RAF and the UK aerospace industry. The industry provides world-class equipment, and in many respects the RAF is its showcase customer. I do not have to tell the House what that means in terms of jobs and British industry. The military side of UK aerospace is 50 to 55 per cent. of turnover, and air systems constitute £3.4 billion out of the £8.9 billion of the Ministry of Defence equipment budget. In anyone's terms, that is large-scale business.

Let me now consider the RAF in the context of the strategic defence review. The one big idea that is likely to come out of the SDR--it will be confirmed in June or July when the SDR is published--is the configuration of our armed forces for an expeditionary force capability. In other words, we shall go into serious force projection. Apart from the structural, equipment and personnel aspects tied up with the complex business of such a configuration, I am sure that all hon. Members recognise that it will be very expensive. Given the financial constraints under which the Minister is placed by the Government's determination to accept the previous Government's public expenditure proposals and by the comprehensive spending review, I am not convinced that he will find in the short or medium term the savings necessary to fund the full capabilities required for an expeditionary force capability.

Power projection obviously implies operating over long distances. There is a requirement for mobile air, land and sea platforms. There is the tremendous problem of sustainability. There is the requirement for sophisticated and robust weapons systems. One can add to that the requirement for joint and multinational capability. Those are phrases that easily flow off the tongue, but I know that the Minister realises, as do the armed forces, that they create major structural problems and problems of cost and priorities.

What is the wish list for Ministry of Defence planners and specifically the RAF for the operation of an expeditionary force capability? I shall take just some of them, because hon. Members have mentioned a number. They include Eurofighter and the BVRAAM--beyond visual range air-to-air missile. We have a requirement for a Tornado mid-life update. We have the possibility of a future offensive air system to replace the Tornado GR4.

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One of the most difficult decisions of all, which hon. Members have touched on, is airlift capability--whether we go for a future large aircraft or a C17.

I have not mentioned all the items on the wish list. I have not tried to put a price tag on each one, but we know only too well that Eurofighter alone will cost about £16 billion. I suspect that the package that I have talked about will cost about £30 billion to £40 billion. I genuinely recognise that the Minister has a problem if he is to fund that out of savings from a budget of £21 billion, even over the lifetime of a Parliament.

So what we shall look for when the SDR is published is not only the outline of an expeditionary force capability but the price tags attached to the weapons and equipment systems and the Government's priorities. The Minister is only too well aware that this is not an academic debate. As the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) said, we might face a crisis in two or three years--even one of a regional nature that would require us to send our expeditionary force capability without many of the key systems that the RAF argues are required. We are unable to discuss that in a wider strategic sense, because we do not know what the foreign policy baseline is.

All this has a major impact on personnel. If we go for an expeditionary force capability, it is likely that the men and women of our armed forces will have to spend more time abroad, away from their loved ones. It will put a greater strain on the social security support system within the armed forces. I fully support hon. Members on both sides of the House who have argued how important that is.

We all argue on behalf of our constituents. The hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), who seems to have gone--[Interruption.] Oh, he is there. I beg his pardon. He is doughnutting a Whip. He is doughnutting two Whips.

The hon. Member for Stafford made a moving speech about a constituency interest, but the Minister is not in the business of buying off our constituency interests. Like other hon. Members, I have some RAF interests in my constituency or bordering it, and much of the informed, or uninformed, debate in the press causes great consternation. Such debate is not only a consequence of leaking by military personnel, because I suspect that there is a little informed leaking by the Secretary of State's special adviser. The footprints of a former defence correspondent of The Financial Times are all over the leaks.

Many of us will search the strategic defence review for a recognition that it is not a once-and-for-all review so that somehow or other defence policy will be put to bed. I suspect that it will be a rolling defence review and that we shall have to examine the small print. We shall also have to examine carefully the time scale for change and for the delivery of equipment. I fear that financial constraints on the defence budget will become worse in the Government's middle term and later, and that there will be major slippage.

Over the past decade, the Royal Air Force has performed magnificently at a time of enormous change, and has responded brilliantly to new operational requirements. I hope that, when the strategic defence review is eventually published, the RAF will see the way ahead in terms of its functions and equipment, and that it

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will not see the review as the product of new Labour but as an example of old-style Labour defence reviews a la Healey and Mason.

7 pm

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North): I was pleased by the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) about the strategic defence review. They were a good deal more sensible and logical than his opening remarks, in which he suggested a Labour party pretence to cover delay. Labour has been calling for a comprehensive defence review for well over 10 years. Some of his colleagues will be able to tell him, if he cares to refer to them, that, when I was an Opposition defence spokesman, I called for that.

Mr. Gray rose--

Mr. Cook: I am intrigued that an inquiry can be made at such an early stage in my speech, but I gladly give way.

Mr. Gray: The hon. Gentleman is talking about Labour's history on defence policy. He will know that, when defence was debated at the 1989 Labour party conference before the general election, the party voted unanimously, or by a large majority, to make huge defence cuts. I think that the amount was £5 billion. Since that time, there have been no defence debates at Labour conferences, because the leadership is afraid that that is precisely what the membership would vote for.

Mr. Cook: First, the hon. Gentleman is incorrect. Secondly, if the hon. Gentleman cares to examine history, he will see that conference decisions have not always determined the policy of the parliamentary Labour party. I am afraid that I have to rebuke the hon. Gentleman for trying to mislead the House on two counts.

Before I was interrupted, I was about to say that a comprehensive defence review would have been ideal at the time of "Options for Change". Anyone who read that with any alertness would have discovered that the only options were cuts. Cuts in defence spending under the previous Government far exceeded the cuts that the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk suggests would weaken defence.

Mr. Blunt: I should like to know the correct position on Labour's policy. Labour started to call for a defence review the moment it ceased to have a defence policy. It called for the ending of any strategic deterrent for the United Kingdom and continued to call for cuts in defence expenditure of £5 billion well after "Options for Change" was accepted. That is the post-cold-war reduction that the hon. Gentleman is talking about.

Mr. Cook: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his strenuous efforts to maintain his style of spin doctoring now that he is in the House. It is almost as good as the spin doctoring he engaged in before coming here. The hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) made a much worthier contribution. He gave his usual well-informed, measured and clearly analysed assessment. In the north-east of England and in

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parts of Scotland, there is a term with about 17 definitions, and it ideally suits the style of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Sadly, he is not in his place to hear my tribute. That term is "canny". The hon. and learned Gentleman always presents a canny case in a canny manner, and we all benefit from his expertise and insight.

I should have started with an apology for arriving late and for missing the beginning of the Minister's speech. I regret that I shall probably have to confine my style and cover a narrower range of issues than usual. That is because I am not as well informed as I used to be, as I no longer serve on the Select Committee on Defence. I should like to comment on three issues. The first deals specifically with the RAF; the second deals with the services in general; and the third will be a closing comment on the strategic defence review.

I express my sincere gratitude to the Minister for the patient way in which he dealt with my inquiries about the Bulldog replacement programme. That topic was aired at some length by the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key). As I have explained to the Minister, I have several reasons for raising the issue, and I have a particular interest in it, not least because I have flown the machine and been greatly excited by it. As the Minister knows, I am concerned, as he is, about British industry and its export prospects. My comments will largely echo those of the hon. Member for Salisbury.

The Firefly is a competent aircraft, whose rival is much smaller and less capable. It out-performs its German competitor in a range of important respects, and the RAF has been able to take account of that. However, one difficulty in trying to assess it has arisen from the criticism that has been drawn to my attention. I take the opportunity to counteract some of the criticism.

People have said that the Firefly cannot use grass landing strips. That is incorrect; it is ideally suited to land or take off on grass. It has a very wide track and a very rugged oleo-pneumatic landing gear, with excellent damping characteristics; and there are no fairing spats on the wheels, so there is no difficulty with grassland topography.

I have heard it said that the Firefly cannot be certificated to fly over water. That is incorrect. The Firefly was flown regularly in Hong Kong--and it is very difficult to land or take off in Hong Kong without flying over water. The criticism may originate from the possible need to carry a life raft in the luggage area. That is no problem, either. The criticism may refer to the problem with wearing a life jacket when flying. The original cockpit configuration was indeed somewhat restrictive, but, in consultation with the RAF, Slingsby Aviation has increased the width and height of the cockpit, and relocated the console.

I believe that it was said that the canopy was not large enough, and that the RAF anthropometric specification had not been met. Those criticisms have been addressed. Not only has the height of the canopy been increased, but, with RAF agreement, the position of the seat has been lowered. The taller RAF pilot, someone a bit taller than me, perhaps, at 6 ft 1 in--I am not 6 ft 1 in; I mean the potential RAF pilot--would no longer have difficulties of headroom, wearing his helmet, or of leg and knee room, because the console has been adjusted.

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I must counter complaints about the canopy. Locking latches have been added to the sides of the canopy, which has not been blown off, but whose sides had been known to lift in some aerobatic manoeuvres. The additional latches have cured the problem.

The following changes have been made to the cockpit configuration. Internal width has been increased. Legroom around the knee to the outside has been increased. Legroom has increased to the reduced forward console. As I said, the canopy frame profile has been modified. Electric flaps have replaced the bulky hand-lever to the cockpit centre control. Wider seats and a cleaner--in design terms--centre console have been added. The engine controls have been modified to account for the RAF's preferred style of operation. The rudder trim has been electrified. The elevator trims have been electrified, eliminating the need for manual adjustment in original models. Finally, the cable-operated rudder pedal adjustment has been added, for simpler operation. All those changes are evidence of Slingsby's acute eagerness to meet the specification--which it has, in fact, exceeded.

As the Minister well knows, the original Firefly is already in service, on the joint elementary flying training programme. Cranwell has issued enthusiastic, supportive reports about its performance in the training programme. In Slingsby's discussions with the RAF, all the points that I have mentioned have been raised, discussed and understood, and Slingsby has managed to satisfy all the RAF's stated concerns.

It is important that we place on the record the fact that the RAF has expressed to Slingsby some of the Firefly's very real benefits. Notably, the RAF describes it as a strong, rugged, powerful machine, which, despite being powerful, can be throttled back within the required envelope. It says that the Firefly is flexible. It says that it has a military ethos--and I can testify to that, because it has the real, old-fashioned, military-style joystick, not the car-driving style of a conventional civil machine. The RAF says that the Firefly is good for teaching; that it has all the aerobatic capabilities required for manoeuvres; that it is suitable for training; and that it is capable of future development of requirements. So what is the problem?

The problem seems to be that Slingsby has been required to quote on the basis of one standard specification, whereas its German competitor, the Grob, is allowed to quote on a different one. In other words, we are trying to compare apples with pears, which I consider to be unfair. We are not starting with a level playing field--perhaps I should say that we are not starting with the same meteorological forecasts. One aircraft is being asked to fly in entirely different conditions. That is unfortunate.

If Slingsby were permitted to quote on the basis of its downgraded version, which has been in service much longer--the M200 rather than the M260--or on the basis of its T67M mark II, the price differentials would change immediately. The performance characteristics would be somewhat altered, but those two downgraded versions still match the Grob on performance.

Before I entered the House, I was a construction project manager--apart from a few other things, such as grave-digger, Butlins redcoat and barman. Immediately before I entered the House, it was my responsibility, on behalf of the company that engaged me, to negotiate further work. When there were four or five different

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corporations sharpening their pencils, it was sometimes necessary for the purchaser to have them all on hand, and to walk from one to the other. That was a good way of getting the best bargain, the best offer and the most reliable undertaking.

I know that the Minister has given the Firefly programme his careful attention and not yet taken a decision. Because so many questions about the programme continue to trouble me, I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the equation is fair, and that we strike toward the level playing field that I have been asking for.

The second area to which I draw attention relates to the strategic defence review, about which we have heard much tonight. We have also heard about reserves, but I did not hear a point that I wanted to raise; it may have been aired before I managed to get into the Chamber.

I need not remind the Minister that reserves are important. Just as the Eurofighter is needed in case we need it, reserve capacity and resource is needed in case we must call on it. We never know when it will be needed; indeed, the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife reminded the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk about the conflict in the Gulf, which, like the Falklands war, was unforeseen. We never know when we shall need the reserves--we need them in case we need them.

Quite apart from that, we need reservists to train cadets, and we need cadets to give us recruits to feed the services. Not only do cadets provide us with recruits for the regular Army, but, generally speaking, those who do not become members of the regular forces become much more socially responsible citizens, much better equipped to conform with society's requirements. They also become better servants of the people. Many hon. Members may have been cadets. Indeed, many years ago, in the string and canvas days, I was a member of the Air Training Corps. However, I was daft enough to sign on in the paras, so instead of getting into planes, I was jumping out of them.

I appeal for close attention to be given in the strategic defence review to the need for the reserves and the need to train them and equip them properly. People make comparisons between our reserves and those of our NATO allies, notably the United States of America. There is a difference of light years between the standards on one side of the Atlantic, even with Canada, and on this side of the water.

I am concerned not only about the inter-service rivalry, to which the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife referred, but about the regular-reserve rivalry. We do not have at the top a regular officer of sufficiently senior rank to be able the hold the corner and fight the case, as there is in the US. I appeal to my hon. Friend to consider appointing someone of more senior rank. I am not decrying the work that has done to date: I am saying that we need a voice that is heard in the MOD and within the hierarchy, and the more pips a person has on the shoulder, the more attention he usually gets.

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